The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Architecture in Northern Ghana

by Fred T. Smith
Kent State University

Entryway shrines of a Frafra home, northern Ghana. Photo by Fred T. Smith, 1973.


Men are responsible for decorating the entryway shrines. Usually they incise designs or carve them in relief; they may also decorate them with paint, particularly if the nearby walls have been painted by women. Among the Frafra, painting is normally regarded as a female activity. While men do the shrine painting, women of the compound assist them, providing the materials and making suggestions. Frequently the motifs on the shrines relate to those on the compound walls, and many of them have a female reference. Although the entrance area is part of the male domain, females are not excluded. In fact, it is the women of the compound who embellish the exterior walls, including those that flank the entryway. As with the Dogon togu na, this male area reflects both visually and symbolically female concerns and contributions. In this regard, It is useful to realize that masculine and feminine are not always fixed categories but can vary according to context.